OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE UNITED NATIONAL CONGRESS, The Official Opposition In The Republic Of Trinidad And Tobago.

Crime Situation Hurting Farmers, Food Production

This is from Donny Rogers, director of the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT) and managing director of Fresh Farm Dairy Products.

Rogers was speaking about the impact of crime on farmers across the nation at the UNC’s anti-crime meeting at Naparima College, San Fernando, on Monday.

Farmers are victims of praedial larceny and violent crimes, which affect their ability to contribute to food production, he said.

He pointed to a rise in praedial larceny over the past few years.

“In 2015, we had 93 reports of praedial larceny in this country. In 2016, the mechanism was still working so we had 73. From 2017-2022, that figure went up between 50 and almost 100% because the figures stood at 132, 136, up to 177, which is almost double,” he said.

Rogers said, in the last year, 125 cows were stolen from farms across the country, which were valued at over two million dollars.

This, he said, showed how criminals made their money.

“Criminals, bandits, could come into your farm, steal animals, put them in vans, drive down the road and they will not get caught because out of these 125 dairy cows that were stolen last year, not one was recovered. No one was arrested for it,” he said.

Rogers called attention to the Praedial Larceny Unit (PLU), which he believes has been left “without the proper leadership, without the systems, without the resources to carry out their work, without the proper legislation”.

The closure of the Carlsen Field PLU left one of the “highest food producing regions of the country” without support.

Farming assets stolen

Crimes against farmers was also a concern, Rogers said.

“But you know what is the funny thing about it? Farmers not really all that worried about praedial larceny. Farmers are worried about crimes against their person,” he said.

Rogers recounted incidents where farmers were victims of violent crimes.

“In Jerningham Junction farmlands, one of the highest producing farming areas, a farmer was held up, produce stolen, money stolen, equipment stolen, vehicle stolen, and (he was) beaten. So that farmer was not a farmer anymore. He (didn’t) have anything in order to go and become productive afterwards,” he said.

In another incident, which remains unsolved, Rogers said an elderly farmer was hogtied and tortured in front his family.

“I am not just here speaking to you as a professional. I am here speaking to you as a farmer, as a business owner. And even I myself, I was shot on my back on a farm. So the crime situation…is taking a toll on their capacity to produce, where you see many farmers opting to just stop, leave it, forget about it,” said Rogers.

This, he said, was noticeable through the sale of agricultural lands at “dirt cheap prices”.

The impact of crime against farmers will also be felt by consumers, he said.

“I am saying that the crime situation is not just against farmers, it is against food production. It is against your ability to get food and your ability to afford food. Demand and supply. When the commodities go less, the prices go up,” Rogers said.

Production decline

Rogers said the decline in local food production accounted for a hike in food prices across the nation.

“From the last eight years to today, rice production in this country dropped by 93%. Vegetable production dropped by 35%. Legume, peas, dropped by 55%. Root crops, 27%. And we only produce 8% of the milk that we use in this country. We import over $180 million in milk annually. We have moved from 150 dairy farmers to just about 75,” he said.

He added that food importation, which amounted to $7.3 billion in the last year, was “the highest we’ve ever had in this country”.

“My prediction is that if nothing is done about the crime situation and how it affects farmers and the farmers’ ability to produce food, we going to end up in a situation where it would not make sense to try to grow food locally, because that food import bill could hit close to $10 billion. And at that stage, it makes no sense trying to bring back our local food production,” he said.

Rogers said while local farmers were “competent and willing” to produce food, their ability to produce was affected by crimes against them.

“We need proper decisions to be made. We need security. We need leadership. None of which we have had for the last eight years. Whilst we allow crimes against farmers to flourish, the pockets of the importers are also flourishing. And that means you guys are going to pay the price for it. Nobody else but the consumer,” said Rogers.

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